WWII Seaman Al LeFevra Served Aboard USS Gemsbok in South Pacific



“From everyday small feats to undeniably heroic efforts, the accomplishments and achievements of America’s Navy are vast and significant. Since its birth on October 13, 1775, the Navy has been involved with more than ten major wars and countless battles in the effort to bring security, democracy and prosperity to the American people and to the international community.” from US Navy Ball website.


I didn’t know sailors could wear facial hair until my interview with Al LeFevra. When he showed me a photo of himself dancing in a hula skirt and wearing a beard, I could hardly believe my eyes! Keep reading for a chance to see this unique view of Navy life. Here is Al’s story as published in the News-Sentinel on Oct 12, 2015. All of these photo materials were provided by Al LeFevra from his collection of war mementos.

HEADLINE: Dad’s advice, hula skirt, asbestos helped make Navy life bearable

Believing his son Al would soon be drafted during WWII, Rene LeFevra, a WWI veteran, shared information about his own time in the Army with his son. “He told me how he lived in fox holes, had little to eat and bathed rarely,” said Al. “He thought it would be an advantage for me to be in the Navy because I’d have good food and a clean place to sleep. That was all he needed to say!”

Al LeFevra was born in Woodburn in 1922. After graduating from Central High School in Fort Wayne in May 1942, he enlisted in the Navy in Indianapolis in November.

After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, he was sent to Treasure Island Naval Base in CA. LeFevra signed up for sea duty and was assigned to the USS Gemsbok (means ‘African antelope’).

The Gemsbok, which held a crew of approximately 100, was a supply ship converted to a tanker. “The conversion was to fool the Japanese,” he said. “During combat, they dropped bombs on tankers to destroy fuel. Many of our tankers carrying oil were getting sunk. Regular fuel ships measured approximately 900 feet in length and held about 100,000 barrels of fuel. Supply ships were half that length and carried half the fuel.”

On January 12, 1944, LeFevra’s ship received orders to head for Hawaii and then the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. There they would join the US fighting fleet under the Vice Admiral William Halsey.

Although a destroyer escort surrounded the Gemsbok for protection, LeFevra was not afraid of the enemy. He had more to deal with. “The water between the US and Hawaii was rough so many of us were seasick,” he said. Crackers helped LeFevra’s stomach.


At Pearl Harbor LeFevra saw sunken ships from Japan’s December 7, 1941, invasion. He also grew a beard, which was allowed in the Navy, and paraded in a hula skirt he purchased when not on watch. Al still has this skirt today and uses it during talks at schools about the war. He said kids love it! Please excuse the photo’s quality which has deteriorated over the years.


Notice how this bill is stamped ‘Hawaii’ on the right. It was issued by the US government after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the Marshall Islands the crew had permission to go ashore. It was LeFevra’s first experience on a beach. “Other sailors from battleships, airplane carriers, destroyers and escorts had landed and cleared the area of Japanese soldiers,” he said.

Two months later the crew of the Gemsbok received orders to go to the island of Eniwetok. It was also deserted and served as the crew’s home base. “During our six months at Eniwetok, we furnished oil for fighting ships from Mariana, Majuro and Kwajalein islands,” said LeFevra.

A passing British ship appreciated when the crew of the Gemsbok shared fuel and food. One sailor pointed out his ship’s ‘head’ (toilet). “It overhung the water off the fantail (stern/back) of the ship,” said LeFevra. “It looked like an outhouse. I suppose that way they didn’t require a flushing system.”

The chief of the Gemsbok’s engine room was transferred and LeFevra tested for the position of water tender first class petty officer. He passed the exam and being the next highest sailor on board to a chief, LeFevra became acting chief of the fire and engine room.

He no longer had to stand watch and could eat in the chow room separate from the rest of the crew, but he had to be available in case of emergency. “I had to see all of the men under me did their job and report to the executive officer daily,” he said.

Fresh water was in short supply until LeFevra devised a solution. The Navy had a unit that processed salt water into drinkable water, though the water tasted salty. LeFevra took loose asbestos, mixed it with water and pressed it around a jug. After the solution dried, it formed an insulation. “We poured cold water from our ship into it and it stayed fairly cool with no salty aftertaste. When others found out about my water, they drank all of it. I made no more fresh water!”

In their spare time the sailors played sports. LeFevra was good at boxing, having learned it in high school. “When other sailors challenged me, we didn’t try to knock the other out, but had fun,” he said. “No one came out of it too bruised.”


Al LeFevra served on the USS Gemsbok during WWII.

In July 1944 the crew received orders to head for Saipan and Tinian. “As we anchored off Saipan, we saw fighting on Tinian four miles away as Japanese soldiers hid in caves.” The Marines bulldozed rocks and tons of dirt to fill in caves. When no one wanted a Japanese rifle that had been found, LeFevra claimed it. “I was told not to load it with our ammunition because our ammunition was too powerful for that gun,” he said.

A new officer came on board who had seen much action in fighting. When planes flew over the Gemsbok, he hit the deck. “I learned this officer had seen stress conditions,” said LeFevra. Two weeks later the officer was transferred to a hospital in Hawaii.

In January 1945 the crew received word that Admiral Chester Nimitz was the new commander of the fleet. In the following days, B29 bombers flew toward Tinian, which was now secured and provided air support for B29s. “We didn’t know until much later that the atomic bomb used to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima called Little Boy was unloaded there in July 1945,” said LeFevra.

Soon the Philippines were liberated and the Gemsbok sailed to Leyte Gulf and was there with many other ships in September 1945 when the war finally ended.


“Ships shot flares into the air like a Fourth of July celebration,” said LeFevra. When the celebration was over, the Gemsbok headed to Guam but ran into a hurricane that lasted three days and four nights. No one was allowed on deck. “Surprisingly, I didn’t get seasick, probably due to the excitement,” said LeFevra. Eating utensils had disappeared so the sailors ate sandwiches for four days.

At Kure Bay the crew went ashore to see the destruction to the city from the Allies’ recent bombing. “Everything was destroyed, so it was surprising how friendly the people were,” said LeFevra.

After the treaty of surrender was signed by the Japanese emperor and the Allies, the Gemsbok sailed for Hawaii. LeFevra had earned enough points to be discharged, but when his skipper asked him to stay aboard until the ship sailed to Alabama where it would be decommissioned, he agreed.

They sailed through the Panama Canal, then through the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile. On April 30, 1946, the sailors of the USS Gemsbok were called to order on deck under the US flag and the ship’s pennant. Each US Navy ship flies a pennant at the top of the US flag.

As they stood at attention and saluted, the US flag was lowered. The pennant was twisted, so LeFevra climbed a rope 12 feet to retrieve it.

The Captain presented it to him. “I was the only original sailor remaining from the ship’s commissioning,” said LeFevra. “He said I was one of the most honest men who had ever worked for him and gave me a letter of commendation.” LeFevra still has the pennant today.


LeFevra takes his military mementos to schools for talks to students about his part in WWII.

When LeFevra was discharged, he held the rank of First Class Water Tender earning $100/month. He took home his Japanese rifle, camera, and ship’s log (diary) among other items.

After arriving in Fort Wayne, LeFevra was thrilled to see his brother Don, who had enlisted in the Navy with parental permission at age 16, to serve aboard a submarine tender, USS Prairie.

Al LeFevra worked at General Electric as a sand blaster. Adept at math, he attended Purdue University in Fort Wayne for drafting and later worked as a Senior Designer at BAE in Fort Wayne. He retired in 1987.

In 1947 LeFevra married Betty Elizabeth Willey from Marion. She and a son are deceased.

In 2013 LeFevra accompanied the Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana to Washington DC. “I feel everything went good for me while I was in the Navy,” he said.  “People from our church wrote to us and people sent cookies. We put them on the table and shared them. That meant a lot to us. We didn’t have much time to be homesick. Dad was right.”

The End



More than two dozen stories like these are available in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It features stories based on personal interviews from men/women in nearly every branch about their military service.

This would make a unique gift for a history, military lover or a person who loves America! It is written in easy-to-understand language so non-military people can understand, include students in middle/ high school. It would be a great addition to a school library.

The book can be purchased at this Amazon link.


Remember to thank a veteran today for his/ her service!


What is an Honor Flight?



WWII Navy vet Lucille Clarke served as secretary to a JAG officer during the war.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. It was something I never thought would happen.


On that date I traveled with 86 World War II, Korean vets and two Vietnam veteran and each of their guardians to our nation’s capital as part of the efforts of Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

Honor Flight Northeast Indiana (HFNEI) is a non-profit organization formed in 2008 to send World War II veterans on a one-day trip to Washington DC to see the military memorials built and dedicated in their honor. All expenses are paid for the vets, including charter flight and meals.


Since then, the HFNEI staff — all volunteers — have enabled 1,200 vets, the majority of whom are World War II, to see the memorials honoring vets of several wars.

It was a thrill for me to participate with the Honor Flight for several reasons. First, I’m a proud American and the proud wife and mother of an Air Force retiree and an airman.

Second, I’ve interviewed 135 World War II vets and written a book about some of their stories. You can purchase the book on this site’s homepage.

WWII front bk cover

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

Third, my father, who is now deceased, was deferred from military service during World War II due to agriculture. The government set aside a certain number of men to raise food to feed our nation and troops overseas. My Dad, Forace Hale Brewer, was one as well as my father-in-law, Christian Robert Reusser. I could not be more proud of their hard work to provide food for not only our nation but people around the world. Both are now deceased.

With all of my patriotism I wanted to pay my way as a guardian on a HFNEI. But since I had no relation to a World War II veteran, it was not likely it would happen. Most vets who go on the Honor Flights are accompanied by a relative or acquaintance.

The waiting list of people who like me want to volunteer as guardians is long. Advice given to me was to find a veteran who wanted me to go as his or her guardian.


I didn’t think my chances were good, but continued to support Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana by going to the airport to welcome them home after flights around 9pm. The crowd has grown to around 3,000 people of all ages. It’s quite a party with people of all ages waving flags, shouting ‘Thank you’ and shaking hands. It’s really a stirring event.

In January 2016 as I looked over the names of the vets I had interviewed, I prayed for safety and peace, as well as for our active military and vets. I know many of them struggle for decades with things that happened during their service.


A female Navy veteran who served as a secretary to a JAG and lives in the same retirement community as my mother came to mind. Each time I visited Mom, I said hello to Lucille and chatted for a few minutes.

Lucille was a quiet lady who always smiled and was ready for a chat. I had interviewed her two years earlier and published her story, which included marriage to a Navy officer.

During my interviews with World War II vets, I always ask if he/she has participated in an Honor Flight. If so, we place their Honor Flight T-shirts in the photos for the magazine or newspaper story to promote the organization. Lucille’s photo did not show her wearing the shirt.

That wintry day it felt like God told me to ask Lucille if she had been on an Honor Flight. That week I visited Lucille and asked her if she had gone on an Honor Flight. She replied no. I then asked her if she’d like to go. She said, “Yes, but who would take me?”

Her children lived in other states at quite a distance. I calmly told her I’d love to take her, then confessed inside I was jumping up and down! We filled out the paperwork and Lucille was accepted for the April 20, 2016, flight!


Dozens of dedicated volunteers come to send off the vets for their big day!

We arrived at the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne at 6:45am. A complimentary hot breakfast was served to all 85 vets, their guardians, the Honor Flight staff and media. The hot, delicious meal was prepared and served by American Legion Post 241 of Fort Wayne.

Vets were issued new T-shirts with the HFNEI name stamped on it. Guardians wore shirts a different color. This really helped to sort us out when we got to Washington as many other Honor Flights from around the nation were present at the memorials. Vets were also issued new World War II caps and other snacks and gifts throughout the day, all free.

Our group left Fort Wayne on an American Airlines A-321 (airbus) at approximately 8:45am. Several groups participated in the boarding of the plane, including military and honor guards. They held flags, stood at attention or clapped as the vets passed. The flight crew, dressed in patriotic colors, chatted and even sung with the group during the hour-long flight.


Certain procedures are followed by the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana to ensure safety of its vets:

A physician accompanies each group. Wheelchairs belonging to the group are provided for each vet to be used as needed throughout the day. Wheelchair lifts are available on the buses – Lucille used this. Helpers are available to assist vets with settling in to seats.

Upon landing at Reagan National Airport in DC at 10am, the vets were greeted by dozens of people of all ages, waving American flags, shaking hands and thanking the vets for their military service. Outside the airport the group boarded four charter buses. Each veteran/ guardian was assigned a bus together.


The nation’s capital city, known for congested traffic, was no problem as the Honor Flight convoy sped through with police escorts! The trip was even more meaningful as my daughter, Lindsay, lives in DC and took off a day of work to join us! Thanks to the HFNEI for allowing her to ride with us on the bus to each stop! Here she is talking with Lucille.


For the next several hours, our group of nearly 200 people toured the World War II, Air Force, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima memorials. Former senator Bob Dole, a World War II veteran, and Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly met our vets at the memorials. Senator Dole was one of the people who helped raise money to pay for the memorial using only donations, not taxes.

Since Lucille was born in Missouri, we took her photo in front of that pillar at the WWII Memorial.


The presence of Lucille and two other female veterans in our group caused us to visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. This was a new memorial for me!


A group shot of the vets is always taken at the World War II Memorial. We also watched the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. Lunch and dinner meals were prepared by professional caterers and eaten on the buses. By the time our group arrived at Reagan National to go home, we were all tired, but the day was only half over.


A large group of swing dancers dressed in 1940s-era clothing visited and even danced with our vets in the terminal. One male dancer placed his hat on Lucille’s head. When I texted the photo of Lucille with a big smile to her daughter, the daughter replied that she had never seen her mother smile so widely!

During the flight home, the vets were given packets of notes, letters (many from family and friends), again thanking them for their military service.


The biggest surprise may have been the group waiting to greet the vets at Fort Wayne International Airport as they disembarked. An estimated 3,500 people of all ages stood inside the terminal and outside under the rental car awning, waving flags, cheering and offering handshakes.

It was an emotional day. Even though I’m not related to Lucille, I believe she’s a dear lady who served her country during its time of need and she was deserving of the attention given to her for her Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

I thought that would be my last trip—how lucky can one girl get to take a veteran she’s not related to on a trip?


But another veteran, a 95-year-old Army veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, has asked me to accompany him on September 22, 2016. I’m so thrilled I can hardly catch my breath!

I promise photos of that trip in the near future! Please pray for our vets around the world for safety, peace and courage. They experience more than most of us ever will.

Please thank a veteran for his or her service today!

For more information about Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana go to Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana

PO Box 5


Huntertown IN  46748


Honor Flight of Northeast IN

The End

Tributes to WWII Vets Mankey, Beitler

Beitler sit

Two World War II vets from my book have passed away recently.

WWII hat

Carl Mankey, one of the few World War II Marines I’ve interviewed and one of the 28 WWII vets whose stories are featured in my book, died on April 6, 2016. Here is a portion of his story:

In June 22, 1944, Marine Private First Class Carl Mankey led 20 men from his squadron up a mountain in Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Mankey’s goal was to destroy a Japanese machine gun nest that had fired for hours on Allied troops. Disregarding heavy fire from the enemy, Mankey moved into the open to shoot with his rifle and throw grenades, hoping to disrupt the firing. Failing to hit the target, Mankey refused to give up. Later, he returned to the machine gun nest, repeating his brave actions. This time he completely destroyed it.


Carl was one of the first World War II vets I ever interviewed about four years ago at his home.

He had a nice small house with an American flag waving in the front yard. Someone had suggested he had a good story and I was looking for something to fill another week of my column in the Ossian Sun Riser.

Little did I know how much that story would come to mean to me.

Carl told me his story, using a lot of words I had never heard of—Tinian, Tarawa. They were islands in the Pacific. He told me he was injured once, healed and sent back to fight. I thought once a soldier was injured, he went home. First lesson.

Then he showed me his two Purple Hearts and explained they had been awarded for his two injuries. Wow! He had been injured a second time and lived to tell about it!

Carl was a small quiet man so it was hard to imagine him taking out a sniper nest, but I absolutely believed he did it if he told me he did. I got the sense he would not brag on himself.

After hearing his story, I went home and thought, “Gosh it’s too bad more people won’t have the opportunity to hear his story. It’s so amazing!”

As I began to interview more and more World War II vets, it came to me to put a book together about their stories. Carl’s story is in my first volume, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

I visited him a few times after the book was released. His family was proud of him and turned out in numbers for our book launch. A family member took him on the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana which he loved.

Carl died in his home. Thanks, Carl, for your support. I’ll miss you.


Dick Beitler passed away on April 17, 2016. He was a godly man who was forced to fight in some extreme battles with the Army in the Pacific. Here is the introduction to his story in my book:

On Leyte Island in the Philippines American soldiers reconnoitered in the Bataan Mountains. It was January 1945 and American forces were trying to recapture the Bataan peninsula from the Japanese. All was quiet until the third night. When the enemy began firing, part of my company went to high ground to fight. I stayed in the valley with other soldiers, firing all night. Many Americans were killed in what would be later called the Battle of Zig Zag Pass.


Dick was one of the oldest vets I’ve ever interviewed. He graduated from Berne High School in 1935, years before the US was involved with the war. He worked at a furniture store before and after the war. He and his wife raised six children and he taught Sunday School for 70 years.

At my book launch Dick volunteered to pray for our group and I was nervous and glad to hand him the microphone. He might not have needed it as his voice boomed!

These were both great fellows and I’m privileged to have their stories in my book.



Jeannette & Bruce Kenline Serving God and Country

Digital StillCamera

Kenline (3).jpg

This story is the result of interviews with a couple I met while working at a retirement home. They were the first couple I had met who had both served in the military. I admire them both.  I didn’t have photos of them in uniform but the helmet is pretty awesome!


Jeannette and Bruce Kenline spent their lives in service, first as American soldiers, then ministering in churches.

A native of South Bend, Jeannette was a student at Indiana University for two years, majoring in business, when she enlisted as a Navy WAVES in 1944. (WAVES stands for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service”)

According to the Naval Historical Center, 27,000 women were recruited as WAVES within the first year of the war. By the end of the war, 80,000 WAVES were serving the US.

“You had to be 20 years old to enlist as a WAVE,” said Jeannette. Why did she want to join the Navy? “I had flown in a friend’s plane a couple of times and thought it was great,” she said. At that time the Army Air Corps, later known as the Air Force, was still in its infancy.

Unfortunately, Jeannette’s dreams of going up in a Navy plane didn’t materialize. She was stationed first at a base in Norman, Oklahoma, then at a naval station in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was assigned the duties of an Aviation Machinist Mate. As soon as she could, Jeannette transferred to an office job. “I discovered I didn’t like taking apart carburetors,” she said.

Bruce graduated from East Rockcreek High School in Markle in 1939. Following graduation, he enrolled at Indiana University as a pre-med major. When he enlisted in the Navy in 1942, his pharmaceutical training from college qualified him to serve as a medic.

Bruce participated in fighting at some of the fiercest battles of the war, including the Omaha Beach invasion at Normandy.

Between June 1940 and May 1945, Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. During the War, the Allies coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large-scale invasion of Normandy. This included amphibious landings by troops on Landing Ship Tanks (LST). “The front end extended into the water, and then dropped open, allowing soldiers easy access to the beach,” said Bruce, who rode on an LST.

His job as a medic was to mend wounded soldiers. It was a gruesome task with Germans dug into fortified locations above the beaches and shooting steadily at the Allied forces. “Bruce saw a man running without legs as they portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan,” said Jeannette.

Bruce survived Normandy only to be shot by a sniper at a later assignment in Okinawa. As a result of his injury, Bruce was sent home. During one of his stops to the island of Guam, he and other wounded Allied soldiers heard about the US dropping of the atom bomb on Japan in August 1945.

It was a momentous occasion for the battle-weary soldiers. “We knew the US had been working on an atom bomb,” said Bruce. “We hoped the war would end soon.”

Back in the US and honorably discharged from military service, Bruce returned to Indiana University where he met Jeannette who had been discharged in 1946. They married in 1947.

After graduating from IU with a business degree, Jeannette obtained her teaching license from the University of St Francis in Ft Wayne, later earning a Masters degree in Education from the same institution. Jeannette taught business and social studies classes at Norwell High School.

Bruce didn’t finish his pre-med degree, but began working with his father in the Ft Wayne area in a home decorating business. Following a trip to Africa 1965 with Dr. LeRoy Kinzer of the Markle Medical Center and Reverend Ernie Shoemaker, Bruce changed his vocation to that of a minister. He enrolled as a student at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and obtained his license to preach in 1970.

Bruce began preaching at the Tocsin United Methodist Church and later Greentown, IN.

Over the course of their lives the Kenlines traveled to China and Russia and raised three sons. In summing up her life in service to God and country Jeannette said, “It is full of amazing grace!”

Note: Jeannette and Bruce Kenline died in 2011 in May and November, respectively.

The End










Final Tribute: WWII Vets / 2015

I subscribe to an interesting blog called Pacific Paratrooper .

It is put together by a military lover called GP Cox. He has taught me many things about our military that served in the Pacific during various eras. I recommend signing up for it.

At the end of his posts Mr. Cox lists vets who have passed away since the last post. His are often from the US and other countries.

I decided to list the World War II vets that I’ve interviewed who passed away in 2015 with their photos in uniform if they are available. This is my way of honoring them and the effort they made early in their lives to serve our country.


WWII front bk cover

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

Looking back at this list makes me sad because I became attached to several—John Wearly lived in my mother’s retirement community and I’d see him on nearly every visit.

Still, the number of World War II vets from my list who remain is great which means lots of opportunities to visit with them and send birthday/Christmas cards. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue adding to the interviews and preserve more of our nation’s heritage. The number of interviews numbers at 115 at this point. Woo hoo!

Please find an American veteran today and tell him/her thank you!

If you’d like to learn more about what our veterans experienced in WWII, you’ll want to read my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. Signed copies can be purchased for $20+$4.95 on this site’s main page.

This book would be a terrific gift for a veteran or history lover.

John Wearly and Max Shambaugh who are among the list below are two of the 28 veterans featured in my book.


Block, Richard — Aurora, Indiana – Navy – 9/19/15


Block uni

Seaman Richard Block served at Okinawa.

Brickley, Robert – Craigville, Indiana – Army – 8/7/15

Brickley Robert (3)

Clarke, Beresford – Evansville, Indiana — Army – 10/23/15

Clarke Beresford (3)

Gates, Emery ‘Bud’– Presto, PA – Army—5/11/15


Bud Gates-- uni

Bud Gates– uni

George, Kermit — Hoytville OH – Army – 7/6/15

George Kermit head uni

Lipscomb, Mary ‘Polly’ Adelaide Woodhull — Ann Arbor, MI – Army nurse – 6/4/15

fLipscomb uni head

Lohmuller, Dr. Herbert W. – Philadelphia, PA – Army physician – 5/27/15

Lohmuller (1)

Ringger, Sylvan — Adams Co – Army – 4/10/15

Sylvan E & Violet Ringger uni

Shambaugh, Max – Fort Wayne – Army Air Corps – 8/2/15

Shambaugh old

Wearly, John – Fort Wayne – Army – 6/8/15

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Zurcher, Paul – Adams Co — Army – 5/7/15


Zurcher uni Purp Heart

Paul Zurcher was awarded Purple Heart after being wounded in WWII.

The Soldier who was Asked Not to Serve

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aaMyers John cap (1)

Today I’m honoring a World War II Army medic who was born 94 years ago this week. A friend recommended I talk with him a few years ago and am I glad to have done so! What a story! I wrote this for a military publication I write for. It is commitment to his country like this that makes American soldiers great!


During WWII, John Robert Myers of Berne, Indiana, was offered the unusual opportunity by the United States Army to not serve his country in battle.

“I had been the forward on our basketball team at Wilshire High School in Ohio,” he said. “While training as a nurse after basic training in Stanton, Virginia, Army hospital officials recognized my athletic skills and asked if I would play for the hospital’s basketball team. They said I would not have to go overseas.”

Myers refused the offer. “I knew I’d feel guilty later for not fighting,” he said. “I went into the war to do the best I could for my country.”

aaMyers John coat snow

Myers was born Dec 24, 1921, in Berne, Indiana. After graduating from high school in 1940, he worked on the family farm with his father.

Like so many young men, Myers’ routine was interrupted at the outbreak of war. Upon being drafted in 1941, Myers completed basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, then was assigned more specialized training as a nurse.

He worked there until December 1944 when he was shipped to the Philippines. “Our ship was a former luxury liner with everything torn out and bunks added to accommodate soldiers,” he said.

In summer 1945 the emperor of Japan surrendered and the war was over. Most troops headed home but not Staff Sergeant John Myers. “I had not earned the required number of points to be discharged,” he said.

The required number of points was based, among other things, on time in service, battles fought, etc.

Myers remained in the South Pacific, serving six months in Manila on a hospital ship, the USS Yokohama. “We were set up to receive injured American soldiers and POWs,” he said.

aaMyers John St Luke fri

Myers also worked at St Luke’s International Medical Center in Tokyo. In addition to scrubbing floors and fixing windows, he volunteered to work on the sixth floor, an area other soldiers shied away from. “It was the contagious disease ward,” he said. “I chose to help there because I wanted to be where I was needed.” St. Luke’s hospital is still in existence today.

Soldiers on the sixth floor were afflicted with, among other things, hepatitis, cancer, meningitis, venereal diseases, and small pox. Unfortunately, working closely with patients caused Myers to contract hepatitis. “I hurt so much I wished someone would hit me over the head and knock me out,” he said. It took Myers a month to recover.

While overseas, Myers wrote letters to a female friend, Chloe, at home. She wrote back. John Myers was discharged and arrived back in Berne in May 1946. He and Chloe married four months later. They became parents to three daughters and later, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

aaMyers John new

John returned to farming and attended Bethel Brethren Church in Berne. His story of being a medic in World War II has been recorded by local students.

Of his time in the Army during WWII, Myers said, “Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge on our trip home brought tears to my eyes! To live in a place like America is such a privilege. I was glad to help my country when I could.”

Sadly, Robert “Bob” Myers, 92, Berne, passed away Monday, February 3, 2014. I’m glad to have met him and that he shared his story with me.

Several WWII vets and other vets are among us.  Find a vet and tell him/her thanks for the service they provided to our country!

Merry Christmas!






Funeral of a Soldier

Thx to all who served sign

Thx to all who served sign

Ever attend the funeral of someone you don’t know? Yesterday I did so and it affected me greatly.

I don’t mean it was a long-ago friend of my husband’s or one of my kids’ teachers. This person was not related to me or acquainted with anyone I know.

Why would I attend a funeral for someone so distant from me? Because he was a Vietnam-era veteran with no family.

James Beavers served 1963-1966– it was not in Vietnam but the specs of where he served are unknown. Here is the obit from D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home:

James Beavers , 74, passed away Monday, November 23, 2015 in Fort Wayne. He was a US Army Vietnam-era War Veteran. He has no surviving family. Funeral Service is 2:00 pm, December 17, 2015 at – D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home, 1140 Lake Avenue with calling from noon until service time. Burial in Riverview Cemetery, Churubusco, Indiana with military honors.

Reporters uncovered other tidbits of information about Mr. Beavers:

He was a disabled Vietnam War Veteran, who held the rank of Private. He was an orphan, originally from Marion, Ind. He was never married, and never had children. He was honorably discharged. Where he worked (if he worked) after the war is a mystery. As the Brits say, ‘He kept himself to himself.’

After 3 weeks of searching for family to claim Mr. Beavers’ body for burial, no one came forward.

The Allen County coroner finally gave up. Thankfully, a local funeral home offered to conduct a funeral for Mr. Beavers and invited the public to attend to show their respect for him and his service.

Estimates of possibly (I’d say probably) more than 1,000 people – many from out of state—were there.

People of all ages attended the funeral. A woman I would suspect was close to 90 years old sat in front of me. A family with a baby sat beside me. Lots of teens were there, which was refreshing, as well as dozens of law enforcement and military groups. It was crowded but everyone was patient and kind.

The funeral lasted about 45 minutes. People prayed and a woman sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. There were even bagpipes.

The internment with military burial was in a town about 45 minutes away. From news reports apparently many people attended that as well.

Keep in mind it was the middle of a weekday a week before Christmas. Everyone there, including me, probably still has shopping to complete for next week.

Ouabache display night Iwo

Obviously, we all felt it was worth our time to show respect for this veteran that had no social connections. None of us had anything to gain by being there.

As part of a military family, it was a privilege to honor Mr. Beavers by attending his funeral. I don’t know how he would have felt about it, had he known thousands of complete strangers would walk past his casket, most stopping for a moment and many adding a salute.

Hopefully, he would have been okay with that.

Still, it bothers me to think we may still have vets forgotten and feeling they are unappreciated. It may have been the way Mr. Beavers wanted to live, though it could not have been healthy for him to be behind doors much of his later years of life.

Perhaps people did try to reach out and were rebuffed. Perhaps things happened to Mr. Beavers while in military service that disturbed him so much he could not deal with people after the war.

Having had the privilege of interviewing a few Vietnam vets, I’ll say that I wish that period of American history could be re-written.

I wish we would have treated our vets more respectfully. As one Vietnam veteran I stood next to in line for viewing told me, “When I got off the boat in San Francisco, I didn’t know Americans protested our part in the war. That changed as soon as a man spit on me.”

This veteran went on to say he made it easier for the spitter to spit in the future (draw your own conclusions).

But he added that he went to Vietnam because in this country people are allowed to protest.

That’s freedom.

Ouabache display night knee

It was not prudent or, in my opinion American, for the protester to spit on a soldier, but he was afforded the opportunity to stand on the street and publicly acknowledge something about our government he didn’t agree with because our government allows him to do so.

I repeat, that’s freedom. It’s not something every country offers in this world and I’m proud of our nation for still offering that freedom today 50 years later. I don’t take that for granted and hope you don’t either.

I just wish all of our vets could find peace with our responses to their service.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it. Thank a veteran. Better yet, go see him/her and make an effort to be their friend or at least someone who shows respect for their military service.

If any veteran reads this, please know the family of this writer appreciates what you have done for our country.

Thank you.